HACKENSACK – After years of witnessing a demolition derby within the Bergen Republican Party, there appears to be a whiff of detente.
“Is the relationship reparable? Yes it is,” party Chairman Bob Yudin told PolitickerNJ.com on Wednesday regarding his relationship with County Executive Kathleen Donovan, who is up for re-election in 2014. “I’m just not prepared to say anything more, but within the next couple of days, something will be coming out that will be of interest.”
Donovan and Yudin have been longtime rivals for control of the Bergen Republicans, a battle amplified by the fact that Bergen, New Jersey’s most populous county, is seen as the bellwether county in statewide elections. The tension between the two was palpable four months ago, when Donovan, the county’s top Republican elected officeholder, was not listed on the host committee set to greet Gov. Chris Christie at a Bergen County Republican Organization fundraiser in August.
More recent battles have served to highlight the ongoing Bergen GOP civil war.
Republican Freeholder John Mitchell’s narrow defeat last month was a flashpoint among Bergen Republicans after Yudin stated in a Nov. 17 letter addressed to Bergen Republican leaders that “if [Bergen County Republican Executive Kathleen Donovan] had advocated everyone, all three Republican Freeholders would have won.”
“A weekend before the election, the county executive was part of a bullet e-mail campaign for [Freeholder] Maura DeNicola,” Yudin told PolitickerNJ.com on Nov.18. “She sent out an email that said ‘Vote for Maura.” She didn’t say vote for [Freeholders John Felice and John Mitchell]. That’s despicable. I did everything for the whole team.”
Yudin’s anger over Donovan’s alleged bullet campaign, an effort denied by the county executive, seeped into his reply when asked about her re-election chances.
“I do not wish to comment on that race at this time,” Yudin told PolitickerNJ.com on Nov. 11. “I won’t even talk to you on background.”
Yudin was also not present when Donovan announced her re-election bid on Dec. 3, although the Bergen GOP chairman was celebrating Hannukah with his family.
This intra-party strife adds to the challenges faced by Donovan as she seeks re-election. She must contend with lingering lawsuits borne of the struggle between Donovan and the county freeholders over plans to merge the Bergen County Police Department and the county’s Sheriff”s Office. Donovan is opposed to the plan, while the majority of the freeholder board, now controlled by the Democrats by a veto-proof 5-2 margin, support the move. During her battles with the freeholder board, Donovan has used her veto power more than 25 times since taking office in January 2011.
The public dilemmas of Alan Marcus, the consultant who managed Donovan’s victorious campaign in 2010, have made some political observers wonder if Marcus’s issues could harm Donovan’s re-election effort.
One issue has drawn the attention of federal prosecutors who have subpoenaed records relating to a public-relations contract that Bergen Community College officials proposed to Marcus’ firm. After criticism of the deal emerged, Marcus turned down the contract.
Another controversy focuses on an accusation by a Paramus insurance broker who claims Marcus influenced county officials to switch medical-insurance carriers to exact retribution when the broker’s wife ended a three-month affair with him.
The presence of U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, who was raised in Bergen and is perhaps the most popular Democrat in the state, at the top of the Democratic ticket in 2014 is another foreboding factor for Donovan.
Regardless of these concerns, Yudin indicated that perhaps very soon, Donovan will only have to contend with the Bergen Democrats, not other Republicans.
“Everybody is walking on eggs – everybody wants to do the right thing and see our party be united,” Yudin said. “It’s very delicate right now. Everybody understands that we need to have a united party, and we’re all talking. No one is yelling at anybody.”